The “absorbed device user” meme, like someone following Google Maps on a smart phone so closely that they walk out into traffic, is becoming all too common. Not only can an interface that requires face time be a hazard to your health in traffic, it’s also not particularly useful to the visually impaired. Haptic interfaces can help the sighted and the visually impaired alike, but a smart phone really only has one haptic trick – vibration. But a Yale engineer has developed a 3D printed shape-shifting navigation tool that could be a haptics game changer.
Dubbed the Animotus by inventor [Ad Spiers], the device is a hand-held cube split into two layers. The upper layer can swivel left or right and extend or retract, giving the user both tactile and visual clues as to which direction to walk and how far to the goal. For a field test of the device, [Ad] teamed up with a London theater group in an interactive production of the play “Flatland”, the bulk of which was staged in an old church in total darkness. As you can see in the night-vision video after the break, audience members wearing tracking devices were each given an Animotus to allow them to navigate through the interactive sets. The tracking data indicated users quickly adapted to navigation in the dark while using the Animotus, and some became so attached to their device that they were upset by the ending of the play, which involved its mock confiscation and destruction.
Performing art applications aside, there’s plenty of potential for haptics with more than one degree of freedom. Imagine a Bluetooth interface to the aforementioned Google Maps, or an electronic seeing-eye dog that guides a user around obstacles using an Animotus and a camera. There’s still plenty of utility in traditional haptics, though, as this Hackaday Prize semi-finalist shows.
Continue reading “Experimental Theater Helps Field test Haptic Navigation Device”
[Roy Shilkrot] and his fellow researchers at the MIT Media Lab have developed the FingerReader, a wearable device that aids in reading text. Worn on the index finger, it receives input from print or digital text and outputs spoken words – and it does this on-the-go. The FingerReader consists of a camera and sensors that detect the text. A series of algorithms the researchers created are used along with character recognition software to create the resulting audio feedback.
There is a lot of haptic feedback built into the FingerReader. It was designed with the visually impaired as the primary user for times when Braille is not practical or simply unavailable. The FingerReader requires the wearer to make physical contact with the tip of their index finger on the print or digital screen, tracing the line. As the user does so, the FingerReader is busy calculating where lines of text begin and end, taking pictures of the words being traced, and converting it to text and then to spoken word. As the user reaches the end of a line of text or begins a new line, it vibrates to let them know. If a user’s finger begins to stray, the FingerReader can vibrate from different areas using two motors along with an audible tone to alert them and help them find their place.
The current prototype needs to be connected to a laptop, but the researchers are hoping to create a version that only needs a smartphone or tablet. The videos below show a demo of the FingerReader. For a proof-of-concept, we are very impressed. The FingerReader reads text of various fonts and sizes without a problem. While the project was designed primarily for the blind or visually impaired, the researchers acknowledge that it could be a great help to people with reading disabilities or as a learning aid for English. It could make a great on-the-go translator, too. We hope that [Roy] and his team continue working on the FingerReader. Along with the Lorm Glove, it has the potential to make a difference in many people’s lives. Considering our own lousy eyesight and family’s medical history, we’ll probably need wearable tech like this in thirty years!
Continue reading “Trace Your Book or Kindle with the FingerReader”
[Roman] has created an electronic cane for the visually impaired. Blind and visually impaired people have used canes and walking sticks for centuries. However, it wasn’t until the 1920’s and 1930’s that the white cane came to be synonymous with the blind. [Roman] is attempting to improve on the white cane design by bringing modern electronics to the table. With a mixture of hardware and clever software running on an Android smartphone, [Roman] has created a device that could help a blind person navigate.
The white cane has been replaced with a virtual cane, consisting of a 3D printed black cylinder. The cane is controlled by an ATmega328 running the Arduino bootloader and [Roman’s] code. Peeking out from the end of the handle is a Maxbotix ultrasonic distance sensor. Distance information is reported to the user via a piezo buzzer and a vibration motor. An induction coil allows for charging without fumbling for tiny connectors. A Bluetooth module connects the virtual cane to the other half of the system, an Android phone.
[Roman’s] Android app runs solely on voice prompts and speech syntheses. Navigation commands such as “Take me to <address>” use the phone’s GPS and Google Maps API to retrieve route information. [Roman’s] app then speaks the directions for the user to follow. Help can be summoned by simply stating “Send <contact name> my current location.” In the event that the user drops their virtual cane, “Find my device” will send a Bluetooth command to the cane. Once the command is received, the cane will reveal its position by beeping and vibrating.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Using technology to help disabled people is one of the best hacks we can think of. Hackaday alum [Caleb Kraft] has been doing just that with his work at The Controller Project. [Roman] is still actively improving his cane. He’s already won a gold medal at the Niagara Regional Science and Engineering Fair. He’s entered his project in several more science events, including the Canada Wide Science Fair and the Google Science Fair. Good luck [Roman]!
[Martynas Mickevičius] has a Grandmother who is visually impaired. She enjoys listening to audiobooks and has been doing so using a DVD player for quite some time. The problem is that there is no way for her to save her position in between listening session. He set out to help by building a dedicated audiobook reader that doesn’t have any buttons.
The project was inspired by a one-button reader we featured back in November. Like that project, [Martynas] chose to use the inexpensive, yet powerful Raspberry Pi. The main difference comes in the control method. He’s using an NFC tag reader, which is mounted in the top portion of the RPi case. The image above shows the rig during prototyping, but his final version is all bundled up in the pink enclosure and only needs the power and audio cables connected to it. See for yourself in the demo after the jump.
Each book has its own NFC tag. When she’s done reading she can simply cut the power and it will resume in the same place the next time it is plugged in. The tag setup is a vast improvement since it allows an entire library to be stored on the SD card and chosen using a different tag. With this hardware in place it should be trivial to code extensions to the system, like a script that uses text-to-speech to announce which book is being played before playback starts.
Continue reading “Audiobook player used only NFC tags for control”
[Michael Clemens] was looking for gifts for his Grandmother’s 90th Birthday. She is visually impaired and loves to be able to listen to audiobooks. The problem is that she doesn’t really get the hang of using electronics. He made things easy by building her a one-button audiobook player.
The Raspberry Pi board is a perfect solution for this project. It’s cheap, it has an audio port, it has storage for the books on the system SD card, and it runs Linux. The last part is key as it made things very simple when [Michael] started pulling together the various components.
When the RPi is powered up it drops immediately into a Python script which loads the audio track and places the music player daemon in pause. The yellow button seen above works as a play/pause button when clicked. If the listener misses something she can hold the button for more than four seconds to go back one track. Loading new books is easy too. [Michael] copies the files onto a thumb drive with a special volume label. When plugged into the RPi USB port the script automatically copies the book and starts playing when the drive is removed. He included a video demo on his project page linked above.
Check out this Rubik’s Cube for the blind. The idea didn’t start off as an accessibility hack, but instead as a way for [Brian Doom] to figure out where the face of each cube goes when manipulating the puzzle. It gave him tactile feedback and his ability to use it in dim lighting was when it dawned on him that this could be useful to others.
Now when we first thought of a puzzle for the blind the term ‘Braille’ immediately jumped to mind. But this doesn’t use it. That’s great, because not all visually impaired people can understand Braille. Instead, this uses dimension and texture to identify each of the puzzle faces. There are mushroom-shaped knobs, Phillips screws, adhesive rubber bumpers, raised text label maker labels, and a few other items that go along with each color. This doesn’t prevent those with sight from playing either. It’s something of one Rubik’s cube for all. Well, all except for the robots made to solve a stock cube.
Using a scanning laser similar to those used in industrial safety systems, a new wheelchair developed by Sweden’s Luleå University of Technology allows those who are visually impaired to drive it without assistance. A driver is given haptic feedback as a navigation aid, reportedly similar to using a cane.
Although something like this is good in concept, this idea is already a working prototype. Doctoral student Daniel Innala Ahlmark (who is visually impaired himself) has already taken this wheelchair on a test run in his university’s busy Computer Science, Electrical, and Space Engineering Department. After this test run he remarked that he “felt safe like using a white cane.”
It’s really neat to see engineering and hacking skills put to use to help people who are impaired in some way (even cooler to see someone visually impaired helping with the process itself!). For more “hacks” related to helping people check out this brain controlled wheelchair, or this mobility device for kids.